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Create renewable energy but don’t destroy open space | READER COMMENTARY

Solar panels stretch across 38 acres at the BNRG/Dirigo solar farm, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Oxford, Maine. One of the challenges of creating more renewable energy is not to destroy valuable forests and meadows while doing so. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Solar panels stretch across 38 acres at the BNRG/Dirigo solar farm, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Oxford, Maine. One of the challenges of creating more renewable energy is not to destroy valuable forests and meadows while doing so. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

A recent article discussing environmental concerns about renewable energy (”Locals worry wind and solar will gobble up forests and farms,” April 30) highlighted the central issue around achieving carbon emission goals — the balance between reducing carbon emissions and preserving carbon sinks. While it is true that large ground-mounted projects are cheaper than smaller solar projects on rooftops and previously developed sites, there is more to the story.

First, the economic trade-offs are not simple. For example, the fee structure established by the Maryland Public Service Commission for community solar projects sets prices independent of the cost of solar generation. Any benefits from lower generation costs are not passed through to utility consumers, but are instead simply improving the suppliers’ bottom line. Moreover, falling costs for renewable supplies mean that most solar siting alternatives are cost competitive with traditional energy sources.

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Additionally, under current regulations, the PSC does not take ecosystem impacts into account when approving community solar projects. Clearing forests and environmentally sensitive areas will result in the loss of valuable ecosystem services such as air and water purification and wildlife habitat. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources estimates that ecosystem services provided by natural resources contribute approximately $8 billion to the state every year.

Finally, an approach that encourages exploitation of greenfield sites disproportionately impacts rural communities while providing very little net economic benefit. The drive toward a net-zero America will require a lot of land for new power projects. While that transition is vitally important for our whole society, the state needs to protect the interests of all of its citizens by adopting strategies that proactively reduce or avoid environmental conflicts, distribute costs and benefits equitably across communities and expedite the low-impact siting of clean energy projects and related infrastructure.

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Stephen Marley, Tracys Landing

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